Clothes Make the Man

Issue No. 13 | May 20, 2022

Friends, Americans, Countrymen:

These days “dressing for success” rarely entails dressing up. Anyone with ambition will notice that the real movers and shakers in our society get to wear whatever they want. Tech moguls in particular like to defy convention – whether to signal that they can’t spend precious brainpower on something as frivolous as clothing  (Mark Zuckerberg’s grey t-shirts, Steve Jobs’ black mock turtlenecks) or to set themselves apart from their counterparts in more staid industries (Elon Musk’s custom Tesla Air Jordans). These outfits certainly communicate status. But do they work? 

 

Let’s just say there’s clearly a difference between a style of no effort and effortless style. Miles Davis embodied the latter. In the mid-50s he began dressing in Oxford Cloth button-downs, soft-shouldered tweed sportcoats, chinos, penny loafers and other “Ivy League” wear, previously the domain of the elite, WASP establishment. Other black artists and intellectuals followed, popularizing this classic American gear and giving it new life. This movement has been handsomely documented in the recent book “Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style.”  

 

Was there a political element to this appropriation? A deliberate effort to subvert onerous class and racial distinctions? Arguably. But what no one can deny is how good these guys look, even half a century later. Their photos remind us of what we gain by embracing tradition instead of rejecting it. 

Provisions

Blue jeans are one of America‘s most famous contributions to world fashion. Yet it’s increasingly difficult to find a pair made here at home. The big three – Levis, Lee, and Wrangler  – have long since moved their factories abroad, where costs are cheaper. 

 

If you’re willing to spend a little more, it’s still possible to buy high-quality, locally-made denim. Todd Shelton has built a reputation making simple, well-fitting jeans (along with other staples) in his East Rutherford, NJ factory. He’s so confident in his product (and committed to promoting US manufacturing), that his website features a helpful list of his fellow American jeans makers

Image: Todd Shelton

Training

The key to looking good in your clothes is making sure they fit. Cheap and well-cut beats expensive and weirdly-sized any day. And yet too many men are unfamiliar with the benefits of a good tailor. As men‘s style blog Put This On notes, “For a few bucks, you can get off-the-rack clothes that look 90% on their way to being custom made.”

 

Put This On’s basic guide to alterations is a crucial resource for anyone new to the menswear game. It’s part of their site’s “Start Here” section, which offers essential knowledge on building a wardrobe, putting together an outfit, storing garments, dressing for the heat, and more. 

Image: Thomas Hoepker

Culture

“Most people don’t take clothing seriously enough, but whether we should or not, clothes do talk to us and we make decisions based on people’s appearances,” says G. Bruce Boyer, a man whose appearance suggests unfussy elegance, earned confidence, and a lifetime devoted to understanding how what we wear communicates who we are.

 

Boyer has distilled much of the wisdom he’s accumulated in 40 years as a men’s fashion editor, writer, and historian in his book, “True Style: The History & Principles of Classic Menswear.” While it excels as a how-to (topics covered include when you can get away with a turtleneck and why you should never go sockless with dress shoes), Boyer is such a stylish, witty, and knowledgable guide that even the most jaded styleforum poster will find much to enjoy here. 

Image: The Armoury

Exemplar

Anyone who’s ever camped, hiked, biked, skied, mountain climbed, or done any activity risking exposure to inclement weather has benefitted from the miraculous water-repelling properties of the fabric known as Gore-Tex. In fact, it’s so much a part of daily life that we rarely think of the inventor from whom it gets its name.

 

While still a college student, Robert Gore helped his father create the multi-conductor ribbon cable, widely used in the computer industry. This initial success allowed the Gores to start their own company. It was there that Robert, trying to design pipe thread tape, stumbled upon something far more revolutionary: a polymer that could be stretched into a porous yet strong membrane. He called it Gore-Tex. While Gore’s invention has doubtless saved many from hypothermia or even death, its medical applications – ranging from vascular surgery to sutures to tissue grafts – have proven to be even more important. 

 

 Gore died in 2020 at age 83. A speech he gave almost 25 years earlier made it clear that his focus was always on the legacy he’d leave for future generations: “Infants with surgically reconstructed hearts that live because of our medical products; governments of free societies that are better able to protect themselves because of defense products; communities with cleaner and healthier environments because of our filtration and sealant products; And yes, people that just have more fun in the outdoors because of our Gore-Tex outerwear.”

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